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The House of Love: An Inside Look at The Struggles of a Private Animal Shelter in China

Dog at animal shelter

This article was written by a Chinese friend in Chengdu who is passionate about the protection of animals.

The first time I heard about the House of Love (爱之家, aizhijia) was on Christmas Day, 2008. I was giving a lecture on animal rights in western countries during my last period of the semester. One of the students came to me after class, saying she had been a volunteer for the House of Love for a long time. “Visit our blog, or come to visit us when you are free,” she said.

So I did. I searched their blog on line and was totally surprised that there was a private animal shelter right here in Chengdu. I called Chen Yunlian, owner of the shelter to verify her story. 10 minutes later I decided to donate 1000 yuan. Ever since then, I have been a part of the animal shelter.

Chen’s story is sort of legendary. During the 1990s, she had made herself one of the few prominent successful businesswomen in Chengdu. However, her life was totally altered in 1997, when she found a seriously wounded dog in a garbage can. A natural born humanitarian, the millionaire rescued the dying dog. Ever since then, she started to rescue more and more homeless dogs and cats with her friend Wang Xiaohong. The House of Love was founded.

Gradually, the animals became an overwhelming burden on her shoulders. She had to quit her business to take care of the animals. What was worse, the expenditure of running the shelter had drained almost all her resources within a few years. Chen has always been a tough and independent woman. She struggled desperately for the next meal to feed her family, as well as hundreds of dogs and cats. The only thing she had then was an empty apartment that she called home.

Chen was cornered into despair. Years later, she told me that when some people heard her story and visited her, for the first time in her life, she asked for help. “Please help me,” she whispered. Then she turned her head, trembling and weeping in silence.

Volunteers put her story online, so more and more people learnt about it. Everyday volunteers came to help with the chores: animal rescuing, nursing, grooming, house keeping, etc. People donated money, clothes, medical supplies, food and even washing machines. With the money, Chen leased a separate house in the suburbs and hired 8 employees for the animal shelter. Meanwhile, more dogs and cats had been sent to the House of Love. The pressure of keeping the house running has never been relieved.

Chen never said no to homeless animals. She believes that every life matters. In the House of Love, handicapped animals were everywhere. Most of them were seriously deformed by human beings. Another great number of handicapped animals were rescued during the earthquake in 2008, for which Chen was severely criticized for rescuing animals “at the critical moment of life and death”. She also lost a great amount of support from overseas. Some western organizations believe euthanasia is the solution for unwanted animals. Chen refused to do it, determined to make her own way of animal rescuing.

In recent years, other troubles followed her as the House of Love drew more public attention. In 2009, some “netizens” dropped in on the House of Love, accusing Chen of stealing public donations. According to their accusation, they were “tipped off” by someone in Chen’s bank, and they found margins between public donations and expenditures. Local media were all over it, and a demand to publish Chen’s personal account was made. When she called me about it, she sounded wronged and indignant, “I have spent my life savings on the animals. Now they accused me of stealing from them!”

To make things worse, the incident exposed the illegal existence of the animal shelter. By law a charity in China must keep the accounts open, which means inflows and outflows must be published. Chen couldn’t make the House of Love a legally registered organization because of a stupid local regulation that there could be only one animal shelter in Sichuan (Tom’s note: Sichuan is slightly larger that California, and is more than twice as populous), which was registered by another charity Qiming. Being illegal, Chen couldn’t keep a public account, so donations went into her personal account.

When everything was reported and even distorted in the media, the integrity of the animal shelter was seriously jeopardized. Donations dropped off greatly despite Chen’s explanation. Publishing her personal account didn’t help either. Local villagers complained about the noise and hygienic problems and threatened to attack the house. The local government was pissed off too. For them the very existence of the shelter meant trouble.

Nevertheless, months of PR work and debate in the media resolved the crisis with a happy ending. The local government reluctantly “made an exception” for the House of Love and it’s now housing more than a thousand dogs and cats. The animal shelter was recognized, and the government helped Chen to rent a lot of approximately 10 acres, which would serve as a permanent home for the animals.

Chen needed more money for the construction. She went to the media and attended various activities. More and more people learned of the House of Love and offered various help. On December 3rd, 2011, the House of Love was moved into the new home with the help of 15 employees and countless volunteers. For this day, Chen had fought for more than 15 years.

People sometimes criticize Chen for her aggressive protection of the animals. Many times I have seen her fight against people who killed or maltreated animals. She was always ready to kick their asses and grab the creature in her arms, with or without help, sometimes even in front of a video camera. She was so fearless and tough that anyone in her presence would feel intimidated. Who would have thought that this woman is already in her sixties?

In October 2011, volunteers were tipped off that in Zigong more than 1000 dogs were to be shipped and killed as food. The House of Love and Qiming organized volunteers to rescue the animals. Negotiating with the owners was tough, but winning back the lives was worth the effort and money (full story from Shanghaiist w/photos). Again the public learned of the incident, and debates on animal rights were held on a larger scale. For Chen, it was just another successful rescue, but for the House of Love, it meant hundreds of new mouths to feed.

Every time I exchanged text messages with Chen, I always asked her to take care of herself before she takes care of the animals. “When there is no more hurting, trading and killing, that’s when I may rest in peace,” she answers.

If you are interested in helping in anyway, visit their blog at:

http://www.aizhijia.org

http://my.poco.cn/id-46311599.shtml (English)

Weibo:

http://weibo.com/cdazj

http://t.qq.com/aizhijia

http://cdazj.t.sohu.com

to Donate through Taobao:

http://cdazj.taobao.com/


6 Comments

  1. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    I am interested in their work but their Blog is really hard to follow and I don’t really understand how to donate to them. Are they getting their website updated soon?

    • Tom says:

      Their website is updated from time to time. If you are interested in donation, there are two ways.
      1. Money transfer
      中国银行成都晋阳分理处
      地址:中国成都晋阳路269号
      户名:陈运莲
      帐号:119859288130
      SWIFT: BKCH CN BJ570
      Abroad Donation Remit Account:BANK OF CHINA CHENGDU JINYANG SUB-BRANCH BANKING DEPT.
      ADRESS: NO.269, JINYANG ROAD. CHENGDU, CHINA
      Holder’s name: CHEN YUNLIAN
      SWIFT CODE: BKCH CN BJ570
      ACCOUNT NUMBER: 119859288130
      2. Click the pictures of particular animals on Taobao, and pay online. The money goes directly to the animals you choose.

  2. MAC says:

    Yeah, what’s the deal with that? The donation links on the English site gave me a “your post is being examined for compliance with anti-vulgarity laws” notice (buh?) and when I looked at donating through Taobao it seems you need a Chinese credit card or bank account, unless I missed something.

    • Tom says:

      That may be the case. I haven’t donated myself yet, but I’m talking with my friend who wrote the piece to see if we can’t find another way.

  3. Axelle says:

    Thanks for this very inspiring story!
    As a vegan, passionate about animal rights and currently in China, I was wondering about the number of Chinese people dedicated to this cause who turn to vegetarianism/ veganism in order to further promote animal rights. Any way to know? (I am unfortunately Chinese illiterate)

  4. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

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